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South Africa and Zimbabwe should recognise border citizens

13 Apr 2020 at 14:31hrs | Views
An article in the Journal of Borderlands Studies written by Inocent Moyo argues that the South African and Zimbabwean governments may learn from progressive examples and recognise border citizens. "If this does not succeed, it will mean that citizenship and sovereignty which fails to take care of all citizens, including border citizens, is a negative endeavour, because it cannot accommodate the peculiarities of peoples who make states and nations," writes Moyo.

When South Africa attained majority rule in 1994, the Venda-speaking people on the Zimbabwean side of the Beitbridge border thought that there would be a relaxation of the stringent controls at the border.

As this was not the case and since these Venda-speaking people also had South African roots, they managed to legally apply for and obtain South African identity cards and passports.

Consequently, whenever they want to travel toSouth Africa, they simply produce South African identity particulars and when they cross the border to the South African side, they regard themselves as authentic SouthAfrican citizens.

When they cross the border and travel back to Zimbabwe, they again become complete and authentic Zimbabwean citizens. This seems to illustrate a strategic claim to dual citizenship by the Venda-speaking people on both the South African and theZimbabwean sides of the border. By having both South African and Zimbabwean documents, these people are making a statement that they are both Zimbabwean and SouthAfrican citizens who reside on the border.

The fact that they possess documentation for both countries demonstrates that these people are contesting the border from below. They are defining themselves in relation to their Venda-speaking communities on both the South African and Zimbabwean sides and in relation to the apparatus of state control which is manifest at immigration controls and regulations of both countries.

Neither the South African nor the Zimbabwean governments recognize the existence of border citizens at Beitbridge. The border was established by the Pretoria Convention of1881 and later replaced by the London Convention of 1884, which drew and set theboundaries of the South African Republic—the Transvaal Republic.

The South African Republic became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910, while Beitbridge was part of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe, after independencein 1980). The Beitbridge border post is situated where the South African N1 highway and the Zimbabwean A6 highway are joined by the Alfred Beit Road Bridge, which was constructed in 1929. It has theoretically served the purpose of defining where the territorial extents of the two countries start and end and where citizens of both countries belong.

Moyo's paper argues that this concept of citizenship ignores the true dynamics; namely, the interactions across the border points to the existence of de-facto border citizens who con-sider themselves to be both South African and Zimbabwean.

Such border citizens argue that their existence, as dynamic and agentive as it is, has been necessitated by the fact that both the South African and Zimbabwean governments have been blind to the fact that before the colonization process, people across the LimpopoRiver lived as one community separated by a simple river and bound by the same Venda language and culture.

Today, the town of Mussina (Messina) and the Vhembe district ofSouth Africa and the rural areas and town of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe are largely populated by the same cultural and linguistic populations.

Since both South Africa and Zimbabwe have adopted a strict adherence to a post-colonial border, the Venda-speaking people of the town of Messina and the Vhembe district in South Africa and also the town and rural areas of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe have challenged this bordering and separation by adopting double identities—they refuse to recognize what they consider an imposed border, as their lives straddle the border in a way that no law or security forces can stop or contain.

Located at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Beitbridge border post aptly demonstrates border citizenship from below. Established as a result of the London Convention of 1884, the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe finds expression at the Beitbridge border post. However, Venda-speaking people on both sides of the border post who were "separated" when the border was drawn have always engaged in dynamic and agentive ways that defy the existence of the border. This interaction pre-dated and survived the colonial and apartheid years in the then Southern Rhodesia and South African Republic, respectively. After both countries attained independence, they have remained blind to the reality of border citizens. Consequently, the fact that Venda-speaking people have, against strict and successive regulatory regimes from colonial to postcolonial times, "defied" the border and continue to do so, establishes a case of their being de facto border citizens. This not only challenges the inflexible territoriality of citizenship at both the South African and Zimbabwean borders, but also presents a compelling case for the recognition of border citizens and the granting of easy and controlled movement based on best practices in other parts of the world.

When the South African government strengthens its borders, as illustrated by the Beitbridge border post case study, they are shutting out border citizens who, in response, engage in agentive ways to make borders flexible and accommodative to the disruptions and splits occasioned by colonial, apartheid and post-colonial bordering. By adopting double identities, the Venda-speaking people of Beitbridge are de-facto border citizens. Even if the Zimbabwean government refuses to recognize border citizens, the reality is that they exist. Clearly, therefore, citizenship and sovereignty as defined by the states has limits if it does not recognize social processes which unfold at border zones.

If states shut their eyes and remain fixed on enforcing and strengthening post-colonial borders, they prove that the territoriality and fixity of sovereignty only exists in a fictional status. Border citizens who are denied rightful recognition will engage in dynamic and agentive ways to defy the imposed limits of citizenship and sovereignty.

Such border citizens define citizenship and sovereignty in their own terms, which cater for and fulfill their unique, cultural, linguistical, and historical circumstances. This case study shows that nothing, not even immigration laws, can change this. Thus, border citizens, such as those in Beitbridge, place a responsibility on African countries to take them seriously. If this does not succeed, it will mean that citizenship and sovereignty which fails to take care of all citizens, including border citizens, is a negative endeavour, because it cannot accommodate the peculiarities of peoples who make states and nations. In fact, the case study of Beitbridge suggests that where border citizens are not properly recognized, there is room for illegal practices such as double identities by people who may not be border citizens, or even Venda for that matter.

The South African and Zimbabwean governments may learn from progressive examples in Asia, where border citizens are recognized; for example the Nepal-Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China where, since 2002, border citizens have been provided with border cards that permit them to cross the Nepal- TAR areas for up to 30 kilometres without passports. This is relevant, because as this paper illustrates, there are limits to the conception and definition of the interiority and exteriority of the South African and Zimbabwean citizenship and sovereignty at the Beitbridge border.

Source - Inocent Moyo
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